Great Lakes Theater opened its 51st season with a seldom-seen gem: Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” A problematic script, “The Winter’s Tale” is actually two plays in one. Loosely intertwined, there is the story of a jealous husband and his noble wife, combined with the comic revels of fun-loving Bohemians.
In Sicilia, pregnant Queen Hermione entreats her guest, the king of Bohemia, to stay awhile longer and celebrate. This innocent bit of hospitality sets off King Leontes into paroxysms of jealous rage. He imprisons his wife, and when their child is born, mother and daughter are cast off. The opening night audience gasped at the strong initial rage of David Anthony Smith’s Leontes. Unfortunately, starting at such a high level, there was no place for the character to grow or change, and the vocal fireworks lost their power long before the show’s intermission. As Hermione, Lise Bruneau gives a quiet restrained dignity to her role, managing to be a voice of reason, which meshes well with the character’s maternal instincts.
The second part of “The Winter’s Tale,” set in Bohemia, uses the characters from earlier to bridge the location shift and the plot. There’s a lot of music in this production, composed by Adam Wernick. Unlike some productions of Shakespeare, in this show the music and dance are central to the second half. An audience member’s enjoyment of this is directly linked to his love of Shakespeare’s clowning.
The revels are set up with an old shepherd, played by M.A. Taylor, and his son, appropriately named “Clown,” to guide the less observant audience. Two disguised courtiers from Leontes are sent to observe the proceedings. Watch for Great Lakes regular Aled Davies, in a pseudo-1960s-inspired outfit, as one of the emissaries. It is hilarious. My tolerance for low comedy in the Shakespeare mode is not great, and I found the second part of the production overly long and tedious.
Director Jesse Berger generally creates interesting and intriguing staging. Many of the set and costume design elements provoke thought and conversation. This “Winter’s Tale” has some problems outside of the script. Most serious are the over-the-top histrionics of the first act, which drew laughter at odd places on opening night. Performers and director have managed to “overcome” the sublime acoustics of the Hanna Theatre, and much of the second act dialogue is unintelligible. What a shame. Costumer Sara Jean Tosetti relies too much on shredded ribbons of fabric for design. Using a child actor for the Bohemia prologue is a good production concept, but few young performers can hold up this important part of the production. A clever “young boy as magician” concept did not overcome the concept’s shortcomings. The clever elements of the production may make it a must-see for lovers of classical theater, but know that this production does not rank among the better ones from Great Lakes Theater.
“The Winter’s Tale” runs in repertory through Nov. 4 with “The Imaginary Invalid” at Hanna Theatre, Great Lakes Theater’s magnificent home.
A block away, PlayhouseSquare’s Broadway series is in full swing with the touring production of “Anything Goes.” An example of American musical theater at its best, “Anything Goes” has the Cole Porter score that includes not only the title song with tap dancing, but also “You’re the Top” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” This production closed fewer than three months ago in New York, and Cleveland is the first stop on the tour.
In New York, the production won 2011 Tony Awards for Best Revival and Best Choreography. The “Best Choreographer,” Kathleen Marshall, directs this production. “Anything Goes” is at the Palace Theatre through Sunday.